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Israel and Palestine After Oslo

RAMALLAH – On September 13, 1993, Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas met on the South Lawn of the White House to sign the Israel-PLO Declaration of Principles, or the Oslo Accords. PLO leader Yasir Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin then sealed the agreement with a historic handshake.

The Oslo Accords – the result of secret talks that had been encouraged by the Norwegian government and conducted in the country’s capital – called for a five-year transitional period during which Israeli forces would withdraw from the Gaza Strip and unspecified areas of the West Bank, and a Palestinian Authority would be established. Letters of recognition between the PLO and Israel accompanied the agreement. The ultimate aim, though never explicitly stated, was to create a Palestinian state roughly within the 1967 borders.

But the goals laid out in the Oslo Accords remain unfulfilled. In fact, the agreement is unlikely to survive 89-year-old Peres and 77-year-old Abbas, who are now presidents of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, respectively. Several factors contributed to the deterioration of prospects for lasting peace.

Perhaps the most important factor has been the continuation – and, at times, acceleration – of Israeli settlement activities in occupied Palestinian territories. Some Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza objected to the Accords’ failure to call explicitly for the end of illegal Israeli settlement building. But, given the PLO’s weakness and lack of support in the Arab world after its refusal to oppose Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait, its leaders accepted the flawed agreement, arguing that Palestinian borders would be agreed upon during the transition period.